After World War II, superhero comics, which had been a welcome diversion for American servicemen, stalwart champions of War Bonds, and other support for the home front during the conflict, largely lost their audience and were gradually replaced by comics with horror, romance, science fiction, war, and western themes. Following the setbacks to the industry by the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, superhero comics all but vanished with only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman continuing to be regularly published. It wasn’t until 1956 that the genre revived when DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz, published issue #4 of “Showcase” which featured a reimagining of the Golden Age character, “The Flash”.
Mort Weisinger (1915-1978) began writing for pulp magazines while in college and, along with his good friend Julius Schwartz, founded the first literary agency to specialize in the related genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Weisinger joined National Periodicals (later DC Comics) in 1941 and, much like his contemporary, Stan Lee over at competitor Marvel Comics, he was very much a part of the comics community throughout both the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics. In addition to editing “Batman” and creating such characters as “Aquaman”, and “Green Arrow, Weisinger was also the editor of the Superman comic books from 1945-1970 and the story editor of “The Adventures of Superman” television show which ran from 1952-1957.
Weisinger’s tenure on Superman was marked with a number of new concepts, story ideas, and supporting characters which became standards in the Superman mythos, which are recognizable today by millions of people who aren’t otherwise familiar with the character. These include the introduction of Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, the Phantom Zone, the bottle city of Kandor, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and a variety of types of kryptonite. It was also under Weisinger that the rationalization that Superman’s powers stemmed from his being from another planet and living under Earth’s yellow sun (instead of Krypton’s red sun) was first used to explain the character’s abilities.
The Mort Weisinger collection at the American Heritage Center contains materials relating to Weisinger’s work as a writer and editor from 1928-1978. The collection includes correspondence (1932-1978) mostly regarding his work as a writer and editor for “This Week” and other magazines and with companies who were included in “1001 Valuable Things”; the galleys and manuscripts for “The Contest,” “The Complete Alibi Handbook” and “1001 Valuable Things”; the manuscript for an unpublished novel about a U.S. President (ca. 1975); legal agreements between Weisinger and “This Week” and Bantam Books (1954-1978); and photographs of Weisinger, the Weisinger family and various celebrities. The collection also includes newspaper clippings on Weisinger and Superman (1928-1978); a script for the motion picture version of “The Contest” (1971); 2 16 mm films from “The Adventures of Superman” television show (1957); 5 scrapbooks; comic books; miscellaneous art work for the Superman comic book; and the board game “Movie Millions,” which was developed by Weisinger.
Anyone interested in the history and inner workings of the comics industry in the United States is invited to explore both the Mort Weisinger and Stan Lee collections at the American Heritage Center to learn more about this fascinating aspect of American popular culture.
Post contributed by AHC Collections Manager Bill Hopkins.